Vulnerable

The other day, I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store watching people freak out about what they don’t have in their homes, and stuffing as much toilet paper as they possibly could into their grocery carts and cars. Truthfully, I was a bit shocked by the behavior I was witnessing. For whatever reason, people are panicking and stocking up on items like it’s the end of the world (in which case, they won’t need all this stuff, by the way…). This country has become so self-focused that “every man for himself” is the obvious motto people live by. In an emergency, grab everything you can! Don’t leave anything for anyone else! This mindset is both destructive and detrimental to any sense of community.

As I gathered my courage to enter the noise and complete chaos in the store for my weekly grocery run, I looked to my left at the car that was parked next to me. There, I saw a sad and curious sight. The car was packed full of stuff. Aside from the microwave sitting on the front passenger seat, the rest appeared, on first glance, to be garbage, in part because it was thrown in every which way, as if it had been carelessly tossed aside. There were open boxes of tissues and hangers and clothing. Small white paper bags that looked like they were discarded fast food bags and large plastic bags that appeared to be trash bags. A rolled up sleeping bag. Some socks and a shirt. The car was stuffed. Full of garbage and so much more.

There was a woman sitting in the car, and I was trying not to stare, but curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to study the contents of the car further, figure out what she was doing there.  She was parked in the handicapped space near the front of the store, and it appeared that she was eating a sandwich in the little space she had that was not taken up by stuff. She presented a stark contrast to the activity around her.

Homeless, I realized. She was likely homeless and living out of her car. I had a vague recollection of seeing this car, in this disorderly state, in this parking lot before—the tissue boxes sparking the memory. There was not much space for this woman to move about and get comfortable since so much of the car was taken up by her stuff. And yet, here she sat, alone and eating dinner in the silence and isolation of her car. Just outside her car, so many people bustled in and out of the store, stocking up on items to keep them fed and occupied and happy in the comfort and warmth of their homes while they wait out the coronavirus pandemic.

This, friends, is the reason that our panic and our focus on ourselves is not productive. We need to be mindful of the more vulnerable among us—the sick, the lonely, the homeless, the destitute. In times like this, we need to come together to look in on our neighbors. Make a phone call or check in with a quick knock on the door (keeping a safe distance from the individual who answers). Be willing to ask the question, I have to go pick up a few groceries. Do you need anything?

This is a challenging time for all of us, but for some more than others. Let’s come together and show the world who we really are.

{Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash}

Warming Station

This morning, I received a local alert text. You know the ones I mean—they typically warn of accidents or road closures or malfunctioning traffic lights. This morning’s text read: “Arctic Cold Temps Tonight/Tomorrow.” This was followed by information on the location of a “warming station” where residents can go if they are in need a warm place. Perhaps this text was directed to the homeless or to people who have a home that isn’t as warm as they might like. Or maybe, these people don’t have the heating budget set aside to keep their home warm enough in the impending arctic cold.

Regardless, I got to thinking about warming stations and responsibility and how we tend to others. In many respects, we are (or should be) responsible for one another. If the weather is not friendly—if it’s too cold or too hot, if the pavement is icy, or there is a blizzard coming—we need to watch out for those who might not be able to watch out for themselves.

I grew up in a neighborhood with a number of elderly folks. The woman next door was (I assume) a widow who lived alone. On the other side lived an elderly couple, and they shared their home with the man’s elderly sister. Farther down the street lived my mother’s former high school coach who walked with two canes. While she definitely needed the canes, they often seemed most helpful for moving things and people out of her way.

Over the years, these people became part of a circle of caring that was integral to my upbringing and instilled the importance of caring for others. On Sundays, I would deliver donuts and the Sunday paper. In the summer, we shared the harvest from our garden, and on Christmas Eve, we would deliver heaping plates of homemade cookies. I would hang laundry, sweep porches, and shovel snow. But under the guise of delivering some goody or other or offering to help with light chores, there was a more important purpose. We were checking up on these people who were more vulnerable to various elements of life—like the changing weather. We were the “warming station” for our neighbors.

A warming station is not just a physical place where someone can go to get warm. A warming station provides safety, security, and comfort. That, my friends, is something that any one of us can provide, if we are willing.

So as I read the text this morning, I realized that it shouldn’t take the community to set up the security others may need . It takes people who are willing to go out of their way to check up on others. And hopefully, when we reach the point of being more vulnerable to the forces around us, someone will be the warming station for us.

Amplified Mischief

Somehow, in the craziness of my home, we came into possession of a megaphone for a brief period over the weekend. In fact, it was an intentional acquisition on the part of the youngest member of my household. He purchased it as a “Secret Santa” gift for another staff member at his summer camp job. I’m told his pick for “Secret Santa” is the loudest staff member at camp, and my son is the master of gag gifts.

But no one in their right mind can be in possession of a megaphone without trying it out, can they?

So my son scrounged around for the right batteries, and soon, he was walking around our small kitchen, talking to us through the megaphone, turning up the volume, trying out the “siren,” and turning up the volume some more. He decided the volume was best when it was close to as loud as it could get.

Meanwhile, his brother was torturing the cat, picking him up and holding him hostage, despite the fact that the cat wanted to get away from the unpleasant noise of the megaphone. “Leave the cat alone,” I told him. “He wants to flee.”

“C, put the cat down,” the megaphoned command clattered through the kitchen as if the local police had driven right up to our kitchen window and made the demand themselves. It wasn’t long before we were all laughing, including the neighbor out walking her dog.

* * * * *

On Saturday morning, I had to go out to pick up our car, and I figured I would get groceries since I would be car-less for the afternoon. J had to leave for work by 1:15, and even though I knew I would make it, I was cutting it close. I was on my way home when. at 1:05, she called me. “I’m on my way,” I told her. “But I’m going to need some help unloading the car as soon as I get home.”

A few minutes later, I pulled up to the house. My son (the current owner of the megaphone) was standing at the end of our walkway ready to grab the groceries from the car and carry them into the house. My daughter was standing at the front door, megaphone in hand, the look of “boss in charge” in her stance. Had I arrived only two minutes earlier, I might have been able to watch this all shake down.

Oh, how I longed to ask about this particular arrangement of my children—how little brother wound up outside while sister took control of the megaphone. But I know some questions are best left to my imagination.

Skinny Pete

I was out for a walk with my son the other evening. Truth be told, it wasn’t just a leisurely walk; we were taking out the garbage, and in our neighborhood, “taking out the garbage” means walking it a quarter mile to the dumpster in our condo complex. In the summer, I prefer to walk the short distance rather than drive.

It was a beautiful night with a slight breeze, and even though it was just after 8:00, it was already quite dark. A couple walking their dog appeared out of the darkness like a grainy photograph in a pan of developer.

The dog was friendly and came over for a sniff and a greeting. I pet her quickly on my way by. “She always has to get her greeting,” her owner said from well within the shroud of the evening darkness.

“I have a cat like that,” I told them. “Perhaps you’ve met him. Black and white… very friendly? He’ll come right up to you and say hi,” I informed them.

“Oh, sounds like Skinny Pete!” they both said.

“Oh, you have met him! He has a bit of a reputation in the neighborhood. He’s cute and friendly, a bit of a pest, but he keeps the chipmunks at bay,” I informed them. “His name is Poto.”

“We call him Skinny Pete,” they returned. “We have a cat at home that looks just like him, but he’s fatter.” Interesting, I thought, that they would refer to my cat as skinny. “But now we know his name, at least.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries before we ambled down the walkway to complete our dumpster run.

“The cat knows more of the neighbors than we do,” my son said, matter-of-factly.

“It’s kind of sad,” I replied. “When the cat has a more active and exciting social life than we do.”

When Aliens Move In

I was having a conversation with my neighbor recently, and midway through our discussion, she said, “Was your son home the other day? I said ‘hi’ to him, but then I wasn’t quite sure it was really him. I thought it was, but he’s changed so much….” Her voice trailed off.

I get it. We have lived in our neighborhood for the past 13+ years, and the kids were very, very little when we moved in. Now, they are hovering on adulthood, driving, working. They have grown from knee-high to taller than Mama. Their schedules are busy, and they don’t cross paths with the neighbors as much as they used to. So it doesn’t surprise me that recognizing them might be a challenge.

There is this subtle change that all kids experience on their journey from childhood to adulthood. But then there is the not-so-subtle change when they are suddenly much more adult than they were yesterday; one day—quite suddenly—they almost seem to be different people altogether.

It usually happens after a feeding-frenzy when they have somehow managed to consume every edible morsel in the house. They go to bed and the next day, or the next week, they wake up, come into the kitchen for breakfast, and you think, Is that really my child at the table? As you look at said child, you notice that the face is more angular; the shoulders are a bit broader; the voice is deeper and the vocabulary is more mature; moods and attitudes vary from moment to moment; and wait… my child would never have worn those clothes yesterday. Where did he even get that outfit? You rack your brain trying to remember if you purchased that shirt, or from whom he might have borrowed it.

As you begin to get used to this taller, louder, hungrier being that now inhabits your home, you simultaneously start to wonder what happened to your child. Where is the child who—just yesterday—was climbing trees and catching frogs? Where is the child who cuddled up next to you while you read bedtime stories? Where is the little one would get up from a Lego-building session and come into the kitchen for a hug?

In fact, I will admit that last summer, I dropped my son at camp, as I had every year for several years. A week later, when I went to pick him up, I could not find him in amongst the crowd of boys all dressed alike. I even spotted him at one point, only to continue scanning the crowd because that kid just didn’t look like my kid. Seriously. My own kid.

And then there was the day over the last year when I called home on my commute from work. A man answered the phone and my heartbeat quickened. WHO IS THIS?? I almost screamed, but then I heard a lilt that I recognized in the strange male voice. Oh, wait…. Perhaps this is the new voice of my kid…?

It’s been a process, but I’m beginning to get used to the new kids who share my house with me. Because with these new kids come some unexpected adventures and new idiosyncrasies. These new kids help each other, they work together, they brainstorm solutions to their own problems, they have goals and dreams, and through their daily experiences, they are developing the grit to reach the goals they set for themselves.

And every now and then, I know they are the same children who have always lived here. When I am really lucky, one of them will come into the kitchen and surprise me with a spontaneous hug.

Mack’s Mingle & Jingle

Mack is hosting a great meet and greet, a holiday Mingle & Jingle, on her site. You can find the party here: https://mackmarie.com/2016/12/06/mingle-jingle/

She has some great holiday treats (complete with recipes) and music. Come on over and join the party!

Leaves

img_2628

Friday was a windy day. As we say in New England, it was wicked windy! All afternoon, I watched from the window of my basement office as the leaves swirled in the sky above me. Then again, being in the basement, pretty much everything was above me.

But with all the wind and the drop in temperature, things had taken an interesting turn back at home. The leaves in the area had been cleaned up just about a week ago, but they always do the “fall clean up” just a little too early. As happens every year, when the wind starts blowing, all the leaves that remain on the ground, on the trees, and pretty much in the entire neighborhood, collect right in front of my house. Every year. It has something to do with the way the townhouses are staggered and the fact that mine is set back from the ones on either side, I suppose. The alcove by my front door is the perfect repository for the residual leaves.

By the time I got home–with the recent time change–it was dark out. And seeing as I am a creative person, I have an over active imagination in the daylight. So when I arrived home (in the dark) and approached my front door, I was well aware that the leaves that were mounded in front of my steps were the perfect size and shape to be hiding a body. Or a live person who might jump out at me. Granted, said person would have to be lying flat, and would have to stay very still, but it was possible. Anything is possible.

I pushed the thought out of my mind and walked quickly to the front door, carefully stepping over the leaves rather than in them, as I do in the daylight.

The next morning, I told this story to my daughter. “I thought the same thing!” she exclaimed. We creative minds think alike. Then again, in this neighborhood (and with my neighbors), there is no telling what might be hiding under a pile of leaves in the dark.

On a positive note, because the wind brought all of the remaining leaves in the neighborhood to my front door, my back deck is now leaf-free!

Good Fence/Bad Fence

As poet Robert Frost writes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In New England, there is much evidence of good fences in the miles of rock walls that amble over hills and through meadows in their forgotten quest to separate the farms of yesteryear. As I look at these walls, I can see the neighbors, each on his or her side of the wall, walking the line together piling stone on stone after each hard winter.

I, however, would like to argue that good neighbors exist regardless of the state of the fences that separate them.

As the resident of a townhouse, walls are generally all that separate me from my neighbors. Thankfully, my neighbors and I get along. At least I like to think we do….

Take my neighbor with whom I have an adjoining deck. For a long while, we had a lack-of-privacy fence between us. Granted, it was supposed to be a privacy fence, but it failed miserably at that job. In fact, the fence actually rotted and began to fall apart. For two-plus years, there was a large hole—at adult eye level—which allowed us to chat without looking around the fence by leaning on the railing. If I stepped out my door, I would often hear, “Howdy, Neighbor!” and a lengthy conversation would ensue through the hole in the fence.

The new privacy fence, rebuilt earlier this season, has just enough space between the slats to allow for partial view from one deck to the other. There certainly is no true “privacy.” As we often say, it’s good we like each other!

On the other side of our house, our former neighbors had two little girls. While our decks were not joined, we did have a more effective privacy fence separating us. But that didn’t stop the girls. If they heard us on our deck eating dinner, they would lean over the railing and engage us in entertaining conversation. It usually started something like this:

“Are you eating dinner?” one would ask. And when we replied with the affirmative, the conversation would continue. “What are you eating? Are you almost done? I have sand in my shoes from the sandbox. Wanna see it?” On a crazier night, one might announce from just behind the fence, “I’m naked. Is that embarrassing you?”

Perhaps it’s true that good fences make good neighbors. But bad fences make better neighbors. Honestly, who needs fences anyway? I suppose I might need a good fence if I had bad neighbors.

IMG_2258

[Image is a photo of our privacy fence, stealthily snapped out my back door so my neighbors wouldn’t think I was creepily stalking them. Clearly, “privacy” is not the strong point of this fence.]

Summer

IMG_2249

Today was the official last day of school, though only one of my children actually had to attend school. The high school finished up last week, with today set aside for students who needed to take make-up exams. The middle school—and lower grade students—had a half-day of school today. The last day.

When my son came home from school at 11:40 this morning, my daughter looked at him, confused. “Where did you go today?” she asked him.

He looked at her, a steady, blink-less stare, as if to say, Really? But he turned and walked away without saying a word.

Today is the first official day of summer, and my house is full of teenagers. A pile of shoes greets anyone who dares to enter the house. I think my boyfriend and I—both seasoned educators of teens—are the only ones who dare. The parents who arrived for drop-off and pick up waved tentatively from their cars.

Giggling, laughing, screaming, some piano playing, a bit of singing, chatting, and a lot of texting were the activities of the day. Swimming, pizza, and more laughing and giggling were sprinkled in for good measure.

Because I reside in a townhouse and share walls with others, I warned my neighbors of my houseful of teenagers. They didn’t seem to mind. Then again, it is only the first official day of summer….

Meanwhile, I sit at my kitchen table trying to complete the day’s work. Over the years, I have learned to navigate the noise and commotion of children in the house while I work. Because in the summer, I work from home. My crazy home.

Over the years, little has changed. Friends have come and gone. Voices have grown deeper and the shoes… they have grown bigger.

It’s officially summer. Welcome to my crazy home. Hopefully, the pile of shoes at the door won’t scare you.

 

Daily prompt: summer

Fearsome Felines and the Food Chain #atozchallenge

IMG_1804

It seems the local food chain experienced a bit of a shake down this afternoon.

One of my three felines—the only one who goes outside—is a formidable force in keeping the local rodent population to a reasonable level. In fact, the chipmunk population has considerably decreased since he started going outside, and I imagine the mouse population has too, based on the body count. Nearly every day, he leaves the gift of his most recent victim on the walkway where I will be sure to see it when I arrive home.

Today, my neighbor stopped me as I drove onto the street. She informed me that a coyote was seen crossing our street midday on Tuesday. It seems my fearless feline has fallen from his position as king of the food chain. Now, if he happens to escape the safe confines of our house, he will have to navigate the neighborhood in fear.